phebe schmidt’s new series is a surreal commentary on reality and authenticity
In a new video series the artist channels her own anxieties around image, brand, productivity and consumption.
Courtesy of Phebe Schmidt
In the first few seconds of the trailer for Phebe Schmidt’s new video Being On we see a mass of jiggling blonde hair, so big it looks fresh from a Texan beauty pageant, slowly turn toward us and reveal a women with large smile. You can already feel yourself hooked in by the exaggerated visuals, desperate to know more. Phebe's photography is always a little warped, so it makes sense that her foray into video feature the same disturbing and alluring touch. By heightening and twisting ideas of beauty, her new video work raises the stakes for the artist's analysis of identity. With Being On now showing at Melbourne’s West Space we caught up with Phebe to discuss the piece and her plans to make more video work.
Can you give us a simple intro about Being On?
Being On is a short film that aims to make visible the gaps between an aspirational performance of image or brand and the nebulous idea of reality or authenticity. It features Kim Kruz, an amazing actress I found on Star Now, shot in slow motion in a electric blue suit surrounded by a deep blue velvet set on a vibration exercise machine (similar to this) accompanied by an advertisement/self-help/mindfulness-like voice over reading a text written by Spencer Lai and soundtrack by Patrick Mooney.
What motivated your foray into video?
Initially I was approached to direct, or work as a production designer on, a number of commercial video projects which introduced me to moving image. In terms of my own work I began to feel a little limited by stills. I wanted to create a work that was time-based, slow and monotonous — that means people have to sit with it for a while to start to notice less obvious details and changes.
What was involved in the creative process behind creating Being On ?
Being On is a part of a series of films I am working on. The prequel Your Time is being exhibited at First Draft Gallery in Sydney on the first of August. I don’t really have a clear creative process I stick to. I generally start with a vague concept and from there I refine as the work progresses with production design, styling, make up, characterisation etc.
How does it differ to previous projects?
It doesn’t differ a huge amount, I am still interested in exploring the same themes. It is a more lengthy production process. Your Time was produced in just under a year.
What have you found to be the main differences in expressing your ideas and concepts through videography versus photography?
I like approaching film in a similar way to how I approach a photography series — creating a character and working from there. Film has allowed me to build more elaborate sets and work with sound. At the moment I am enjoying essentially treating this short film series like a still image that moves - one super long take with very slow movement, lit similar to my photographs ('off' advert vibe). I don’t have a preference — I like using both mediums.
Do you see yourself creating more video in the future?
Yep — I want to continue with this series and work on more commercial video projects.
What are your main inspirations in your art practice?
I’m inspired by advertisements, sci-fi and am interested in exploring consumption, self-image and identity in branded contemporary culture. My commercial and art practices inform each other and are central to investigating visibility and identity/selfhood.
Does the work you produce come from a place of personal significance?
I didn’t used to think so, but before making Your Time my sister encouraged me to try a writing exercise to narrow down my ideas and it turns out what I am interested in exploring in my work is closely aligned to my own anxieties revolving around image, brand, productivity and consumption. The kinds of things we’re expected to achieve and produce constantly under neoliberalism.
How do conventional ideas of femininity and beauty influence your art?
I think feminine ideals and beauty conventions fit into my interest in identity and branded culture. But perhaps more than anything to do with gender performance and appearance, it’s about expectations of people more generally. And that includes things like mental health, self-care and being ‘in control’.
What’s coming up from you in the near future that we can look forward to?
Your Time will be showing in Sydney for a month which is exciting and then I am heading to LA for three months for an Artist Residency at Eastside International. I hope to make some work over there.